by Jen Hutson
Quarters. I spent hours feeding rolls of quarters into the copy machine like an arcade game. I knew no one. I took the Metro by myself to Capitol Hill to find my way through the campus of the largest library in the world. Intimidating. And the east coasters working in the Library of Congress (LOC) didn’t roll out the red carpet for this Midwestern girl either.
I was writing a research paper and it took weeks for my sources to arrive at the LOC. I wasn’t allowed to check them out, so I spent hours copying books and then loaded the pages gingerly into my bag like a prize baby. Well, I rather hoped those pages would help me birth a 45-page baby of a research paper. There was no digital library nor a list of websites I could use. For 3 days it was me, the stack of pages, and my IBM Aptiva.
That same semester at American University, I spent a month traveling Northern Ireland to study the conflict under a ruthlessly driven professor from Palestine. Ruthless as in – “If your eyes droop during a lecture, I will send you home on a plane, same day.”
I suffered unmerciful professors, was states away from home without a single friend, traveled daily through D.C. on the frenetic Metro, was chased one night by a strange man, suffered from undiagnosed Celiac Disease, and most mornings I woke up to more uncertainty and unfamiliarity. As much as it pained my mother, she could not rescue me from any of my adversity that semester.
And thank God she couldn’t.
Adversity in the 21st Century
When we hear the word adversity, it usually triggers an internal grimace. But is adversity our enemy? Centuries ago Francis Bacon wisely mused,
“Prosperity doth best discover vice; but adversity doth best discover virtue.”
Most likely we agree that adversity (thought of as tragedy or great trial) creates character. But, thankfully for most, tragedy isn’t a daily occurrence. We live in a world that is adept at reducing the discomfort and unpleasantness of life. The most uncomfortable events of a day for many people, especially children, include waiting 3 days for a 2-day Amazon shipment, losing one’s cell signal or having to finish one’s homework before a Netflix binge.
As a Gen-X child, I vividly recall waiting weeks for a package to arrive. I mailed my film to be developed, forced to wonder in anticipation if I had snapped any decent photos. I took 13 hour car rides from Indiana to Pennsylvania with a box of Triscuits and a coloring book for entertainment. No DVD player. (Just ask my mother.)
Though these examples might seem trite to the Greatest Generation, my point is true. Generally speaking, progress brings greater ease for each generation. Many of us go through the day without the smaller collective inconveniences, or adversities, that over time transform entitlement into character. Fortitude becomes an antiquated virtue when you have everything at your “virtual” fingertips. And this effect is most visible in our own children.
The Need for Adversity
And so, we must create adversity for our children where it is lacking!
But wait…why would we as parents want to create adversity for our children? Isn’t life hard enough? Don’t most of us want to actually spare our children pain? God has called us to teach them well so they will not learn all their lessons the hard way. But a child without adversity is likely a child without character or resilience. I could find evidence-based studies on the projected value of resilience and character, but instead, let’s go straight to our best practices handbook – God’s word.
In Romans 5, God instructs us that we should:
“…exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us…” (Romans 5:3-5 AMPC)
The meaning of character here in the original Greek reveals the process by which it is obtained. A person of character is someone who has been tried and approved via trial. So to be of character requires having been tried… by adversity. But the Bible instructs us that the benefits do not stop at character. Character gives birth to hope, which is confident expectation or anticipation; specifically here, the Greek implies hope of our eternal future. This is a hope that will sustain our children through adversity.
So what do we now know to be the benefits of adversity for children? To make a paraphrase of it:
Adversity creates fortitude (or resilience) and fortitude creates character and character creates hope.
Creating Adversity for our Children
But how do we get practical with this concept? This is where you come in! Each child has their own age, stage, and temperament. Adversity could be a myriad of things as shown in the list of ideas below. Be discerning and tailor the challenges to each child. The goal is not to break your child’s spirit but to raise the bar so they can rise to meet it. Over time, increase the challenge as you see growth in their fortitude.
Potential ideas for creating adversity:
- Let your child struggle at times. Don’t rescue them at the first sign of difficulty. (This begins with toddlers!)
- Allow them to fail or lose. Even losing a board game has value.
- Don’t cater to every need. Require them to contribute to the functioning of your home and family.
- Don’t provide a constant safety net or nag your child. For example, if they won’t proofread their homework, don’t do it for them.
- Hold them accountable to make reparations in person when they’ve done wrong.
- Help them process a tough experience and always provide emotional support. But resist the urge to try to fix the situation for them.
- Require them to finish a job well and not rush through it.
- Require them to clean up after themselves every day.
- Create situations of waiting or working towards a longer goal without an immediate reward.
- Find an opportunity for them to sell something door to door around the neighborhood.
- Fundraise for a mission trip in person or via letter, without modern shortcuts like gofundme.
- Assemble a difficult puzzle without help.
- Clean the family car inside and out.
- Encourage them to problem-solve with siblings or friends without adult intervention.
- Weed the flower beds.
- Mow the entire lawn.
- Skip jiffy lube and change the oil in the car.
- Perform chores without getting paid or rewarded.
- Make a family meal without assistance.
- Sign up for a competitive event or contest.
- Make their bed independently – fitted sheet and all.
- Sweep one floor or the entire house over a weekend.
- Tackle a task that is scary – using the loud sweeper or dusting the basement storage area.
- Volunteer at an unfamiliar place, independently if age appropriate.
- Get a summer internship.
- Get a summer or part-time job.
- Begin learning a new skill.
- Perform or speak in front of a group, even family and neighbors.
Supporting Through Adversity
Remember to reflect and process the experience with your child as this will promote the formation of fruit. Also, remember to encourage your child. You may not hold their hand, but you are still behind them. A safe home base will help your child persevere.
Finally, model resilience and speak about challenges in a positive rather than negative manner. Your own stories of adversity and resilience will encourage your children. Let them see the fruit you have gained so they see there is always a purpose to be found in adversity, whether in the development of character and hope or a specific blessing God will work through it.
My semester in D.C. and Northern Ireland was tough. Tougher than I imagined. And I cried out to God in loneliness and fear many times. The adversity of it has long since passed, but the fruit will last my lifetime. Little did I know harder things awaited me after – and certainly more are ahead still.
But I see time and again that the fruit from adversity is the most beautiful and long-blooming in all my garden.
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